NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Need for Enemies

Leopoldo Fergusson, James A. Robinson, Ragnar Torvik, Juan F. Vargas

NBER Working Paper No. 18313
Issued in August 2012
NBER Program(s):   POL

We develop a political economy model where some politicians have a comparative advantage in undertaking a task and this gives them an electoral advantage. This creates an incentive to underperform in the task in order to maintain their advantage. We interpret the model in the context of fighting against insurgents in a civil war and derive two main empirical implications which we test using Colombian data during the presidency of Álvaro Uribe. First, as long as rents from power are sufficiently important, large defeats for the insurgents should reduce the probability that politicians with comparative advantage, President Uribe, will fight the insurgents. Second, this effect should be larger in electorally salient municipalities. We find that after the three largest victories against the FARC rebel group, the government reduced its efforts to eliminate the group and did so differentially in politically salient municipalities. Our results therefore support the notion that such politicians need enemies to maintain their political advantage and act so as to keep the enemy alive.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w18313

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